After much trailing over the weekend, the Government unveiled its revised National Planning Policy Framework in two key speeches on Monday (5 March).  The first was from the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon Theresa May MP, who delivered a speech at the Institution of Engineering and Technology yesterday morning.  This was followed by a speech to the House of Commons from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Sajid Javid MP.

Both sought to appeal to the Tory heartland as well as the young, and to show that housing issues are towards the top of the Government’s domestic agenda.  The revised NPPF seeks to help the Government address Britain’s housing and affordability crisis, with the Government aiming to ratchet up the delivery of new homes from 217,000 last year to 300,000 a year by 2025.

Approximately 80 previously-announced modifications are to be implemented in the new guidance, which builds on a wider package of housing reforms, including the Housing Infrastructure Fund, the Housing White Paper, the Planning for the Right Homes in the Right Places Consultation and the 2017 Autumn Budget.

A focus for the NPPF will be delivering “the right homes, with the right quality, in the right places”, with the original NPPF’s emphasis on sustainable development maintained.

Consultation on the revised document will run until 10 May.

Industry comment and reaction

The proposed reforms demonstrate that the Government is adopting a more top-down approach to solving the UK’s housing crisis by introducing a greater role for national government, along with a clearer set of checks and balances for both councils and developers.

The revised NPPF indicates a shift in Conservative thinking with the legislation outlining a greater and more critical role for the build-to-rent sector and, surprisingly for the party, less focus on home ownership.  This shift is coupled with an emphasis on helping to alleviate the pressures faced by young people wishing to get on the housing ladder.

Nonetheless, industry reaction has been predictably mixed.  The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) reacted positively to the “empowerment” of councils as a means to deliver affordable homes, but various other institutions including the Federation of Master Builders, criticised the Prime Minister’s “lambasting” of private developers, stating that the revised NPPF will force building at a rate that makes poor commercial sense for the private-sector – slowing down delivery, rather than facilitating it.

Faster delivery

The revised NPPF seeks to address the perceived issue of developers ‘land-banking’ once they have planning consent, by allowing local authorities to consider their past record of housing delivery when competing for sites and considering applications.

As previously announced, developers will have a two-year window in which to begin construction following planning permission, otherwise they now run the risk of that permission being revoked.  Both the original and revised NPPF state that authorities should consider making this a planning condition, except in instances where a shorter timescale hinders the viability or deliverability of the scheme.

The Government is also seeking to shorten the inquiries process, with Javid announcing later in the day that an “end-to end review of the planning inquiries process” is imminent.

More effective use of land

The revised NPPF outlines a range of strategies for more efficient land use.  Developers will be encouraged to build upwards as part of a wider strategy to increase housing supply and density.  As outlined in the 2017 Autumn Budget, this includes a “small site strategy”, which is designed to facilitate the number of schemes that can be built out quickly.  It also urges local planning authorities to ensure that at least 20 per cent of sites allocated for residential housing sit on plots measuring half a hectare or less.  The Prime Minister specifically referenced utilising vacant space above high street shops as an example of how this can work effectively.

The revised NPPF also gives local authorities greater powers through new Permitted Development Rights (PDR) to convert under-utilised land into what the Government calls “good uses”.  This will seek to allow occupants living in built-up areas to add two storeys to their properties to make better use of space.

Greater protections for the Green Belt

With just 10 per cent of land built on, the Prime Minister argued that Britain is not an overcrowded nation.  Doubling down on previous Tory commitments, she said that more efficient use of brownfield sites along with effective strategies for increasing housing density should be the primary ways of increasing housing supply.

The revised NPPF intends to ensure that Green Belt development is not viewed as an “easy option” for developers and local authorities, but is instead seen as a last resort that will only be given the green light if reasonable alternatives have been fully explored.  If Green Belt land is used, developers will need to demonstrate how they will off-set the impact of removing land from the Green Belt.

Javid, who is considered more open than his leader to developing on Green Belt designated land, was arguably bolder in his speech to the House later in the day, adding that the Government’s planning reform would “include more flexibility to develop brownfield land in the Green Belt” so long as this does not result in “substantial harm to [its] openness”.

New rules for developers and councils

May’s speech made references to developers prioritising profits over the number of homes they actually deliver.  Seeking to address this, the revised NPPF will allow local councils to consider developers’ previous rates of build-out when considering planning applications.

Equally, local councils will be held to account using a new “delivery test” which will focus on the number of homes delivered by a council rather than the number that is planned for.  The Government reiterated its intention to clamp down on so-called ‘nimby councils’ that fail to reach their targets or refuse to build the homes needed – guilty authorities could see their Local Plans transferred to the Planning Inspectorate in the future.

The Government is also looking to ensure greater consistency.  To do this, it will seek to introduce more standardised viability assessments with greater transparency, as well as standardising the method through which local authorities assess their local housing need.

Affordability and fairness

The draft revised NPPF also makes a commitment to ensuring 10 per cent of homes on major sites are classified as available for affordable home ownership, a promise to create build-to-rent homes that are suitable for families, along with a strategy that concentrates on building affordable homes in locations with the lowest rate of affordability.

The Prime Minister also spoke about the UK’s deregulated rental market, which she says has led to “cowboy” behaviour and malpractice by both lettings agents and developers.  Measures announced last year to ban a plethora of lettings agent fees will be followed through and local authorities will be given the power to “crack down” on rogue landlords.  Tenancy lengths will also be increased to further bolster protection for tenants.

The updated NPPF also references the £5 billion Housing Infrastructure Fund (which finances infrastructure projects with the potential to unlock up to 200,000 new homes); the £9 billion investment in the Affordable Homes programme; and the increased borrowing cap for local councils as all helping to make these plans a reality.

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